Majestic tall ships race

ALPENA – Passengers on the Lady Michigan glass-bottom boat were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Tuesday while taking what they believed to be a regular shipwreck tour. Eight tall ships coming from Bay City’s Tall Ship Festival were preparing to race from the mouth of Thunder Bay to Mackinac in what is expected to be a 24-hour trip north on Lake Huron.

Spectators aboard the Lady Michigan were able to get up close to these intricate vessels and view the crew getting ready for departure around 2 p.m.

Paul LaBrecque, captain of the Lady Michigan said this was a very rare opportunity to see that many tall ships out in the water in one area.

“We got word this morning that the tall ships were going to start the race in the mouth of the bay,” LaBrecque said. “The sight was fantastic. You don’t see that many tall ships in the lake at one time preparing to sail. It’s something you’ll probably never see again.”

LaBrecque said that in all of his years on the lake he’s never seen anything like the gathering of ships on Tuesday at the mouth of the bay.

“The coordinates of the ships and where they are starting and finishing are a secret,” he said.

All eight ships started the race from Bay City, and are heading north to finish the race somewhere near Mackinac.

“These ships come to the Great Lakes every three years,” Sanctuary Media and Outreach Coordinator Stephanie Gandulla said. “They sail on all the Great Lakes.”

According to Gandulla, at least two of the tall ships have been to Alpena – the Dennis Sullivan and the Niagara.

Some passengers aboard the Lady Michigan were tipped off about the tall ships being in the area by a worker at a visitors center who had heard rumor of the ships being near the bay on a radio.

“We’re taking a tour of northern lower Michigan and some of the Upper Peninsula,” Al Swanson said. “We’ve been trying to see them for years and haven’t been able to. We came all the way from Colorado Springs, Colo., and couldn’t miss an opportunity to see these ships. You can’t beat anything like this as a highlight for a trip.”

Swanson’s wife, Kathy, agreed.

“The ships are spectacular,” she said. “I don’t even have the right words to describe it.”

One of the young passengers on the glass-bottom boat, Aidan Gandulla, was very excited to see the ships.

“The sails are my favorite part,” he said. “It looks so hard to get them up. The ships were really cool.”

LaBrecque was sure to use caution maneuvering around the ships, but was able to give all the passengers a close look at the vessels in the water with their crews preparing to start the race.

“Rarely do you see these ships in a group together,” LaBrecque said. “It was a pretty special tour.”

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.